While I’ve always identified as a Mega Man fan, that identity came with an asterisk – I didn’t care much for the classic series. I grew up on Mega Man X and even dabbled a bit in Legends, and I loved both of those games. On a computer emulator I played Rock Man: Power Battles, learning the ins and outs of combat in the classic style but without the platforming sections to build up to the boss encounters. When the Battle Network series started, that became my reference point for most Mega Man lore – I’ve played every Battle Network game except 4, and played all three Star Force titles. The Mega Man I know and love is an RPG on a tactical grid.
That’s not to say that I never played the classic games. I tried out to varying degrees every numbered title in the series thanks to legacy collections and the like, but playing those older games never appealed to me much. The tricky platforming and general lack of helpful resources meant that I lost frequently, and I could only die so many times before I decided to simply put down the controller and move on to other games. Mega Man titles also lacked a strong narrative, which for me is a key factor in maintaining motivation when the mechanics of a game aren’t holding my attention.
As someone with little love for the classic series, the Mega Man 11 demo struck a chord I didn’t expect. The Double Gear mechanic added new possibilities that helped to freshen the classic formula. While I rarely broke out the power gear during the demo, the speed gear’s ability to temporarily slow down the hazards around me proved invaluable to dodging enemies and navigating tricky platforms. What was perhaps more helpful – even if I didn’t recognize it at the time – was being able to choose a difficulty setting appropriate for my level of skill and experience at Mega Man titles. I liked the demo enough to play Mega Man 11 in its entirety, and now that I’ve got my hands on the full experience I can firmly say that I enjoyed it even more than the demo led me to believe I would.
Of course, you’re not here for impressions. You’re here for details. So let’s dive fully into my experience with Mega Man 11 to discover what it is about this game that makes it special.
Mega Man 11 opens on a short series of animated screenshots with voiceover text giving you the background of the story. Back at university, Dr. Wily and Dr. Light were competing to make the next big move in robotics, complete with a council ready to choose one man’s research over the other. Light pitched the idea of robots with autonomy, while Wily developed the Double Gear: a machine designed to push robots to their limit by increasing their speed or power. It was determined that Light’s technology would be better for mankind and so Wily’s research was rejected.
Fast forward to 20XX and Wily has remember the research of his youth. He installs the Double Gear system into his Wily machine, busts into Light’s laboratory while a number of robots are being serviced, and kidnaps them all to brainwash them while also enhancing their bodies with the Double Gear. It’s a decent setup, but the narrative of any classic Mega Man is really nothing more than an excuse to set up the meat of the game: charging through the lairs of eight robot masters to defeat them and take their weapons so you can head to Wily Castle and give the old doctor a taste of his own medicine.
If you’ve ever played a Mega Man game before, you have a pretty strong vision of what to expect here. You can tackle the eight levels in any order, and each one is themed based on the robot master who controls it. An interesting feature of Mega Man levels is that these stages are actually civilian or business locations that have been corrupted to Wily’s purposes. For example, Blast Man’s arena is actually a theme park where many of the attacking robots were once actors in the shows there, and Impact Man’s stage is a construction site complete with robotic workers and platforms for moving materials. These small touches don’t impact the gameplay, but for those who like to get into the lore of a game there’s lots of clever little stories hidden within the larger narrative.
Each stage offers a series of platforming challenges, a miniboss, and the robot master whose defeat will give you a special weapon. The kinds of challenges you deal with will depend on the stage you’re playing. Acid Man’s stage has portions of the level which are submerged, and using the water current to carefully navigate spike traps will present some tough challenges. Torch Man’s stage has sequences where a deadly column of flame chases you from behind, forcing you to carefully manage your speed gear to jump, slide, and shoot through spots intended to keep you still so you are caught and burned to a crisp. Some series classics make returns, too, like the disappearing block platforms which you must jump to in a specific order to make your way up to a high ledge your normal jump can’t reach.
Each stage has a miniboss to deal with, and these battles are short but generally offer some interesting combat challenges. The miniboss on Tundra Man’s stage is a mammoth robot on top of a small platform with eyes protected by a metal shield. A charged shot breaks the shield so that you can then follow up with normal bullets, but finding the time to take the offensive is tricky when the machine is dropping icicles on your head and using wind to blow you into frozen spikes. On some stages you face the same miniboss twice in different conditions, such as facing the Bounce Man stage miniboss in a room full of bouncing platforms during your second showdown. In your first battle, you dodged the frog’s attacks by sliding underneath them – with sliding no longer an option in the bouncy room, you instead have to rely on bouncing above the frog’s swing at just the right moment.
Then of course there are the bosses themselves. Each robot master has a distinct weakness, some of which are more obvious than others. I was able to determine that Bounce Man’s rubber bouncy balls would give me an advantage against the electrical boss Fuse Man, but I would have thought that Acid Man could dissolve Block Man’s blocks – instead, that relationship works the other way around. It’s tricky sometimes to determine a boss’s weakness but it’s satisfying when you figure it out. Don’t worry too much if you get it wrong, though, as there are plenty of resources to help you when you’re stuck in a bind.
During each level you collect small bolts that operate as the currency of Mega Man 11. Between stages, you can spend bolts on two types of helpful resources: items and parts. Items are consumables that do things like restoring your health bar, recharging weapons, or saving your from hazards like bottomless pits or deadly spikes. You can also purchase more lives using bolts to refill your stock, and can have as many as nine lives at one time (with life zero also counting as a life, you effectively have 10 tries at any one stage). For a stage which gives you particular trouble, you can purchase a super guard that halves damage from all sources during the stage you use it on.
Parts are permanent upgrades, many of which have on/off switches that allow you to determine when you want to take advantage of them. The advantages of parts range from quality-of-life touches like an automatically-charging Mega Buster to tools that help with specific stages, such as spiked boots that dramatically reduce the degree to which you slip when moving on ice. Parts are also tied to the difficulty level in which you are playing, so you won’t have all the parts available until you push yourself to try harder challenges in the game. For example, there’s a great part that makes enemies drop bolts more often – and thus increases how often you can buy parts – but it’s only available in Normal mode or higher.
Mega Man 11 has four distinct difficulty settings: newcomer, casual, normal, and superhero. I played for the first time on casual, which was described as being “for Mega Man fans who haven’t played in awhile.” This seemed to be an apt description of my skill level, but it certainly put my platforming ability to the test. Generally I got a game over once per stage during my first playthrough, give or take some stages that gave me less trouble (Fuse Man) or more (Wily Castle stage 1). As I progressed through the game and got access to more and more energy tanks and parts, I got fewer game overs and instead relied on the in-game items to push me through when I was struggling.
In total, beating Mega Man 11 on casual took me just over four hours – probably five in total if you factor in the times where the game missed some of my playtime because of loading previous saves or whatever. Five hours for $30 may not seem to add up very well in the modern era, and indeed if your only goal in Mega Man 11 is to play through the story one single time and then move on to something else, the title may not be worth the price of admission. However, there’s a lot more to this game than just the campaign itself. The game Mega Man 11 is not in the narrative – the game is in the challenges and replayability.
As I played through the game for the first time, I noticed myself receiving what seemed to be achievements. Now the Switch doesn’t have a system for achievements or trophies like the Playstation or X-Box, but these rewards are built into the fabric of the game. I would get them for things like defeating a certain number of bosses, or defeating an enemy in a clever way, or using specific items for the first time. At the end of my first playthrough I went into the Records menu where these achievements are stored, and I began to look at all of the different ones I had yet to earn.
I’m not the kind of player who normally cares for trophies or similar methods of out-of-game reward. I think a big part of that is that achievements and trophies are generally attached to parts of the game that I have no interest in exploring. Picking up every single collectible in Mario or getting the high score in some unrelated minigame in Final Fantasy means nothing to me. And there are certainly achievements in Mega Man that felt that same way; I’m not planning to go out of my way to defeat every shield enemy with their special weakness or whatever. However, one caught my eye when I checked the Records menu, and it’s the one pictured above: complete the game on Casual with no items or parts.
I’d already completed the game on Casual once. Surely I could do it again without items, right? I’d learned to rely on e-tanks in my first playthrough, but my skills had improved to the point where I felt like I could put them aside and survive Casual mode on my own merits. So I started a separate file, chose Casual as my difficulty, and once again dove into the game’s main story.
Suddenly, mechanisms of the game which I once considered irrelevant became very significant for me. Boss weaknesses, which I basically ignored during my first play, now totally defined the order in which I completed the first eight stages. When I got to Wily Castle stage 1 and had to face down the yellow devil with no e-tanks, I was so brutally defeated that I ended up using challenge mode’s Playground feature to train against the yellow devil for almost an hour, trying out every special weapon and slowly learning the boss’s attack patterns to enable myself to defeat it. Once I was satisfied that I could handle him, I went through the stage again. I had to repeat this training process for the stage 2 boss as well, though I figured out its weakness and pattern much faster.
It took a lot of practice time and game overs, but after another five hours I now had a new achievement under my belt. I had defeated Casual mode without a single e-tank or special part. I was still having a good time and wanted to try more challenges, so next I decided to jump up to Normal difficulty. If I could handle Casual without items, surely I could handle Normal with items, right? And the achievement that I would strive for was the goal of not getting a single game over during my run.
Once again, this challenge proved tough. Getting started was the toughest part – in Normal mode, you only start the game with two lives. Compare that to five starting lives in Casual mode. Since you don’t start with any bolts to buy e-tanks before you start or to improve your life count, I had to identify a stage and boss that I could defeat in only three tries. I tried Block Man first, since my time with the demo meant I was the most experienced with his stage. But while his stage proved simple enough, the boss battle is one I’ve never quite gotten a strong handle on.
I tried Acid Man next. Acid Man’s attack patterns are somewhat predictable and easy to punish with the speed gear, so I felt like I could take him down and then work my way through the game’s bosses from there. The thing is, the many spike traps on Acid Man’s stage proved too punishing for me to make it to the boss in the first place. I finally found the right villain in the form of Fuse Man, a character whose stage has few instant-death traps and whose boss fight is tricky but manageable with some practice. Once I defeated him, I spent my bolts on a single e-tank and as many lives as I could afford. Slowly, I was able to move through Normal mode by prioritizing lives and health, and once I got a file going where I pushed past the early levels I managed to keep game overs at bay. I only had to quit and reload an old save one time, during Acid Man’s stage (stupid spikes).
After around 3 hours, I now had a two new achievements under my belt: one was the in-game achievement for never getting a game over, and the other was the out-of-game accomplishment of having moved up from Casual level play to Normal level. This, I think, is where Mega Man 11’s structure really shines. With four difficulty modes to navigate, even the newest players to the series can move at their own pace. If a particular aspect of a stage is giving you trouble – the stage itself, the miniboss, or the robot master – you can focus in on that aspect using challenge mode and practice until you’re ready to take it on in the main game. In this way, Mega Man 11 serves as something of a training course. You can work your way up the difficulty ladder by pushing yourself in different ways. My own journey – from casual with items to casual without, up into normal with items but no game overs – shows that the game’s structure is ideal for improvement over time.
So what kind of person is most likely to enjoy Mega Man 11? I think your status as a newcomer or series veteran is irrelevant here. Regardless of how much or how little you know Mega Man, this game is equipped to bring you in at the level you are ready for, and willing to give you the opportunities to build up to greater levels of performance. When looking at this game from the perspective of the types of fun it addresses, I think the itches it scratches most are fun by challenge and fun by submission.
The challenge, I think, is obvious. Mega Man 11 rewards you with in-game achievements for pushing yourself to overcome more and more difficult obstacles. Even when you’ve fully mastered the game itself and completely cleared the records room, you also have the option to post your challenge mode scores onto online leaderboards. You’re not just challenged to overcome the best that the game has to offer, but also the best that other players have been able to perform. Submission comes in from the hard practice you’ll have to put in to overcome the challenges. I described how I spent an hour grinding battles against the Yellow Devil – these matches all lasted only a minute or so each time, so for that hour I was repetitively performing similar tasks to slowly work to a final goal or outcome. These types of fun scratch satisfy exactly the types of game experiences I typically enjoy, so for me Mega Man 11 has been an excellent experience. If the idea of practicing stages and boss encounters over and over in order to finally overcome increasingly difficult challenges sounds appealing to you, then Mega Man 11 will definitely scratch that itch. If that isn’t your kind of fun, then this might be a title to stay away from.
In conclusion, Mega Man 11 is a solid game that is designed to introduce newcomers to the experience and slowly give you the skills and confidence to achieve higher levels of play. Those who enjoy challenging platforming and grinding battles to improve your skills will find that there’s plenty to keep them busy in this title. I’m a good fifteen hours in now, give or take, and will probably continue to play and push myself even after completing my “final review” of the game. If you’ve never given classic Mega Man a try, I fully recommend this title as your entry point for the series.
If you have any questions about the game that weren’t answered in the text of the review, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to provide answers if I have them. I’d also love to hear your own thoughts about the game, particularly if your experience of it was different than my own. So if you’ve got a comment, I encourage you to include it and keep the discussion going!